Hillcrest Expands Structured Learning Program


Hillcrest Hurricanes are going places this school year, and our Structured Learning Program is an integral part of our journey. Currently we have fourteen students in our program, and this year we added a third Structured Learning classroom. Jessica Retzke, our kindergarten SLP teacher, focuses on developing her students’ language skills and providing structure throughout their school day. The students in her classroom use no tech, low tech, and assistive technology devices to communicate their wants and needs. She is working with Eleanor Murphy, one of our speech pathologists, to help our littlest students learn symbolic communication so they may be able to communicate not only with behavior and gestures, but with language. Each week students learn new words to expand their communication. One of the favorite core words of the week was “go.” Students in the classroom experienced hands-on activities that involve the use of the word, such as watching balloon rockets launch in the classroom. This motivated the students to use the core word by rewarding usage with preferred sensory stimuli.

Kimberly Singh, the SLP first grade classroom teacher, loves bringing her students together every morning for morning meeting time (called “Hurricane Huddle” at Hillcrest). There they talk about the weather, sing and dance about the days of the week and months of the year, and count to 100 while exercising in fun and silly ways. Throughout the day, students work on playing together, taking turns, communicating, and regulating their emotions, in addition to learning reading and math. Students loved studying the life cycle of the apple, which was their fall social- science focus. 

Rebecca Reidenga-Talbot, our 2nd-5th grade SLP teacher, is proud of the places her students are going and the gains they are making. Throughout her four years teaching the program, she reflects on how special it is to grow alongside her students since she has been able to spend multiple years with them. Looking back on pictures and memories with the kids from her first year reminds her how far they have come. “Another great thing about the program,” she remarks, “is being able to work with so many different types of staff members, from related service providers to paraprofessionals.” Mrs. Reienga-Talbot understands that collaboration is essential to meet our students’ needs and appreciates the team’s ability to think outside the box to support each student. 

The related service providers include three speech language pathologists (Eleanor Murphy, Gail Lindstrom, and Colleen Green), two social workers (Tina Bryk and Kara Leitza), one occupational therapist (Malissa Roberts), and one physical therapist (Amanda Nauman). These women work diligently and creatively to foster student’s skill development, and consider it a “gift” and a “privilege” to work with our kids and with each other, and to see the transformation the kids have made from the first day of school and over the years. 

Malissa Roberts, occupational therapist, remarks on her work in the SLP program: 

“My favorite part about working in SLP is learning to see the world through eyes and perspectives other than my own. Students have taught me so much more about empathy, creativity, compassion, acceptance, resilience and self-expression. I especially enjoy the moments general educational and adaptive education collide—the ‘aha’ moments when students realize we are really not all that different after all and the differences we do have are what make us unique and strong.”

The SLP team would not be complete–and would not be able to function, without the tireless efforts of our special education assistants. These women– Erin, Shanda, Bobbie, Amber, Cathy, Gaby, and Kristina, in addition to the other paraprofessionals who help assist the students at specials and lunch/recess – Julie, Liz, and Denise, support the functional and behavioral needs of the students, assisting them in the classroom, bathroom, and all throughout the building. These women keep our students clean, safe, happy, and get them ready to learn. As special education assistant Bobbie Moore stated, “it’s heartwarming and encouraging to see the dedication and love of the teachers, assistants, and paraprofessionals towards our kids with special needs at Hillcrest.” As our Structured Learning Program continues to grow and to thrive, it is clear that all of our Hurricanes are going places. With love and with inclusion, we recognize that it’s our differences that make us great. We are all part of the Hillcrest Elementary School family. We all matter.